WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Wilmington city leaders held a press conference today to talk about the continuing violence in the city, specifically violence involving minors.
Mayor Bill Saffo, New Hanover County Commission Chair Beth Dawson, Wilmington Police Chief Ralph Evangelous, New Hanover County Sheriff Ed McMahon and District Attorney Ben David all spoke about ways the community can come together to prevent kids from turning to gangs and violence.
Mayor Saffo said that law enforcement, non-profits, and members of the community need to work together. Saffo said helping kids get a good education so they can get jobs needs to be a priority. He adds that he will be calling on lawmakers in Raleigh to increase sentencing for lawbreakers to keep them off the streets.
One problem Saffo cited is people being afraid to tell law enforcement about the crime happening in their neighborhoods.
“A lot of people are in fear of what these young people will do to them,” said Saffo. He said folks can make use of resources like Text-a-Tip if they are worried about retaliation.
County Commission Chair Beth Dawson said the commission has increased funding for the sheriff’s office, gang and crime prevention programs, and community groups.
“This is a community problem, and as a community we are responding,” said Dawson.
She adds that the commission has also supported mental health programs in schools to reach out to at risk kids and give them the help they need.
District Attorney Ben David said the city of Wilmington is now in a cycle where “today’s victim is tomorrow’s defendant.”
“We live in a city where children are now killing children,” David said.
David called attention to the NC Street Gang Suppression Act, saying that if need be they can and will stop validated gang members from even hanging out with one another.
“When you take life, we’re going to take your liberty,” David said.
Police are also stepping up to put an end to the crime cycle. Chief Ralph Evangelous said they will be expanding community policing from 7th St. to 13th St. and from Castle St. to Wooster. Evangelous said those areas are known to be hot spots for illicit and gang activity.
Evangelous said the community needs to also step up to be a part of the solution. He said police can not do it alone without support.
Another problem highlighted by Evangelous was rental properties. The chief said that they are going to really hold the property owners accountable for what the tenants are doing on a property.
Sheriff Ed McMahon echoed the chief saying, “We can’t arrest it all away.”